By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31)
Rahab the harlot lived on the margins of her society, literally. In the late bronze age when her story takes place historically, it was common for people to build housing adjacent to or within fortification walls like that of Jericho. She was a harlot who kept her family afloat by keeping her tavern well. Rabbinical literature cites Rahab as one of the most beautiful women of the bible alongside Abigail, Sarah, and Esther. She is marginalized by her location within Jericho, living right on the perimeter just under the skin of the city and also metaphorically by her harlotry. But, it is this exact marginalization that makes her God’s servant. She is a woman very much in the right place at the right time with the right job: a whore whose tavern borders the town barrier on the evening of a reconnaissance mission before conquering it.
Sex Working and The Bible has some incredible commentary about this story from a roundtable discussion between incredible sex workers whose work has left inedible marks in the history of human rights activism. The ability to faciliate their analysis and to center it as valuable theological commentary is something that is rare and precious. Ipsen points out that Mary Magdalene is debatable but Rahab really is not unless you want to absurdly hold semantic ground. She’s a vital character to study because she is lauded by the bible for her actions and held as a model.
What the commentary from the sex workers really grabbed onto was the disenfranchisement that Rahab must have felt to be able to sell her city out. She is loyal to her house but she is not loyal to her city and based purely on what she had heard about the Isrealites and their escape from slavery with the miraculous support of their God who stands with the marginalized. To be loyal to her city would be loyalty to the hierarchy she is subject to and she hitches a ride to freedom with this quick and decisive act. It is very much what makes her a worthy matriarch for this powerful and divinely inspired lineage: she does what it takes to take care of her family and she has a keen vision of freedom and liberation.
And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee. (Joshua 2:13-14)